By Mansoor Ijaz
India's recent elections have ushered in a historic opportunity to address the issue of Kashmir. Over 417 million voters turned out to give the world's most populous democracy its most stable government ever. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the affable economist-turned-politician, should now turn Congress's election mandate into an impetus for making unprecedented decisions on national security. Kashmir should be at the top of the priority list.
Some would argue that the landslide election results mean India doesn't need to make peace with Pakistan over Kashmir. I argue the opposite. India's political maturity and growing economic power give it maneuvering room not available to Pakistan, a country besieged by Islamist insurgency, shattered confidence in institutions and a failed economy.
India defeated Pakistan twice in two wars. Pakistanis have watched India rise to regional superpower status economically, politically and militarily. In many ways, India's success fostered Pakistan's radicalization. Rather than confront its self-created demons at home, Pakistan first blusters and then begs the world to save it.
Historically, the moments at which peace was most possible between these nuclear-armed neighbors were when hawkish political and military leaders with equally pragmatic instincts were able to see the mutual benefit in making peace without compromising security. Such was the case when Atal Behari Vajpayee, then India's prime minister from the rightist Bharatiya Janata Party, reached across Kashmir's line of control in 2000 and accepted a general ceasefire by Pakistani-backed militants there. A year later, he and Gen. Pervez Musharraf (who had sanctioned the militants' 2000 offer of ceasing hostilities) nearly reached accord on a final framework for settling the Kashmir dispute by including Kashmiris as partners for peace and agreeing a blueprint to transform the current line of control into an international border.
The leaders may be different today. But the conditions for making peace are similar. In India, the task falls to the newly mandated Mr. Singh, whose calibrated approach prevented hyperbolic reactions against Pakistan in the aftermath of Mumbai. His party won 20 of 25 seats in the state of Rajasthan that shares the longest border with Pakistan. And it won 5 out of the 6 seats contested in Kashmir. He is therefore strong enough politically in key border states to take the risk.
In Pakistan, the task falls to an embattled president whose dismal 19% national approval ratings and penchant for risk-taking make him an ideal candidate for New Delhi to reach out to as his political fortunes spiral downward. Asif Ali Zardari fundamentally does not see India as an existential threat. And his commercial approach to political relationships allows him to see above his army's historical strategy of promoting Islamist insurgency as a foreign policy tool to neutralize India's military superiority in favor of the greater economic good.
Offering Mr. Zardari a seat at the peace table also stabilizes Pakistan's political situation. Just last week, Pakistan's Supreme Court overturned a ban on the right of Mr. Zardari's key political opponent, Nawaz Sharif, to contest national elections. Given Pakistan's history, it is nearly certain Mr. Sharif will not wait until 2013 when those elections are scheduled to seize power from Mr. Zardari. A foreign policy triumph of historical consequence could help Pakistan get through one election cycle with the same government intact - a critical factor for rebuilding its political institutions.
Mr. Singh and Mr. Zardari should call for a peace summit this summer. The two leaders should seek a framework for resolving Kashmir by empowering its people economically and removing terror from their midst by withdrawing Indian security forces and Muslim militants in stages to build confidence on both sides. Mr. Singh's election mandate is largely the result of five years of unprecedented economic prosperity, during which India grew at an annual rate of 8.5%, raising waters for all Indian boats. That economic windfall should make its way to Kashmir's embattled residents.
India and Pakistan should agree to then remove forces from other parts of their joint border (in the Punjab, for example) in order to allow economic trade flows to begin in earnest. India should offer Pakistan major trade partnerships, even creating mini-economic free zones that Mr. Singh is renowned for promoting in which specific products that benefit both countries could be traded.
For its part, as a show of good faith, Pakistan should close the Mumbai wound by sending the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists to stand trial in New Delhi. Gen. Kayani and Gen. Pasha should propose credible paradigms for sharing intelligence and conducting regularly planned joint border patrol and military exercises to their Indian counterparts. Recent reports of intelligence sharing with U.S. mediation are encouraging - but much more can and should be done.
Precedence for such cooperation exists. Gen. Eshan ul-Haq, then intelligence chief of Pakistan, and Chander D. Sahay, then India's intelligence director and an architect of the 2000 ceasefire, shared vital intelligence that averted an assassination attempt on Gen. Musharraf in December 2003; this important link should be revitalized.
Even cooperation on sensitive nuclear security matters should begin between the two countries, neither of which is a signatory to global non-proliferation or fissile material control treaties. The U.S. Department of Energy could, for example, host joint conferences in the United States with each country's nuclear regulatory commission to improve coordination on nuclear security matters.
Most of all, India must change its mindset about Kashmir from militaristic control over a cowering people to economic empowerment that motivates them to rise up and determine their own futures. India must make the Kashmiris -- all Kashmiris -- partners for peace. Self-determination is the key platform on which Pakistan has always summoned its national dignity in support of the Kashmiri cause. No matter what that decision by Kashmiris turns out to be (and it would likely be to stay with India) and no matter how long it takes them to get there, self-determination is the skirt behind which Pakistan's army - and its people - could withdraw in dignity and with honor. This was the essence of the plan in 2000 that nearly succeeded.
India's election results give it the political strength to offer such a plan. Pakistan's myriad problems demand that it accept any reasonable offer at the table. The moment to secure durable peace in Kashmir is now.
Mansoor Ijaz, an American of Pakistani origin, jointly authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities between Indian security forces and Muslim militants in Kashmir in July and August 2000.
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